Quick Tastings

Some more of what I done been drinking:

Balvenie 12 Years Doublewood – a whisky grabbed as a chaser round the corner from the Sci-Fi-London film festival after a day of packing bags and herding punters. It had a grassy, olive oily nose with hints of sugary spice and a touch of wood. To taste it had a woody sweetness with some cinnamony spiciness with a bitter fruity finish. As it developed in the glass the sweetness increased and turned towards candyfloss.

OldRascalThatchers Old Rascal – I popped into the branch of Byron Hamburger that’s now hiding in the building that used to house The Intrepid Fox (I may never have drunk anything but Newcastle Brown or bottled cider when visiting, but RIP anyway. The new location just isn’t the same) and grabbed a quick bottle of cider to accompany my tasty burger. Described on the label as ‘Full bodied medium dry Somerset cider’, I would have stuck it more towards the medium sweet end of things. Anyways, it was quite nice – more mulchy farmyard flavour than you usually get from a mainstream cider as well as a nice tartness contrasting with the underlying sweetness. One to remember.

The SMWS release a new tranche of whiskies every first Friday of the month, so I stopped by to try a couple. Well, more than a couple after I got talking to the bar staff…I am weak:

SMWS 35.38, Fire in the hole! (Glen Moray) – Chosen specifically because of my interest in strange wood maturations, this one was matured for 9 years in a 2nd fill chardonnay cask. Wine finishes are generally badly thought of by whisky connoisseurs, but a few interesting ones do get out into the wild – this one is a bit of a mixture. A strange nose, with a slab of wood as well as a strange chicken and ammonia combination (to be honest there was a hint of the pub bog to it). To taste it was almost meaty, with overripe fruit and a bitter woody finish. With a bit of water it softened out, becoming more wine-like with some vanilla from the wood and an oily sandalwood flavour coming through. One to try, but not one I want a whole bottle of.

SMWS 93.38, Stirs the atavistic soul (Glen Scotia) – The intended final dram of the evening, this was to sate my love of Campbelltown whiskies, although as there are only two remaining distilleries, Glen Scotia and Springbank, this is quite a limited love. Luckily Springbank have a couple of brands they distill giving a slightly wider field for me to taste my way through. Anyways, this reminded me, from my notes, of a damp wood fire in someone else’s garden – smoke at a distance with a touch of damp woodiness. There were sour grapes and cured meat on the nose as well. To taste there was a touch of sweet wine as well as tannic wood, almost like a fruity rioja. A drop of water softened the wood, bringing out more sweetness and hiding the tannins. Overall the main memory I have is of a tingling menthol like finish down the sides of the tongue. Quite definitely from Campbelltown and really quite nice.

SMWS 27.80 (Springbank) – no name for this one as I can’t find it on the website. Continuing the Campbelltown kick I went for a recommended dram of this new (I think) Springbank. It had salt and a light sweetness on the nose, as well as a plimsoll-like rubberiness. To taste it had more salt and rubber as well as a sweetness and a prickly, numbing sensation. Water brought on more sweetness and a slick, buttery mouthfeel, along with more rubber and fisherman’s friends. It reminds me very much of the bottle of single cask Springbank I got from Cadenhead’s while at the Edinburgh Festival last year, although this one is even better. I may have to pick up a bottle on my next visit.

SMWS 53.140, Swelling, crashing, waves of flavour (Caol Ila) – a deliberate evening ending choice, although I was offered an even more peaty Ardbeg by the ever helpful barman. I declined, but made a note for my next visit. On the nose it had a sweet peaty smoke with a hint of disinfectant, mulch and parma violets. To taste it was crisply smoky with candy floss and citrus fruit, but rather complex and overpowering and in need of dilution. Water saves your palate from certain destruction, with the flavours combining to give a sweet wet ash smokiness, a touch of orange and a tingly finish. It’s good I stopped after it as I was still tasting it when I got home an hour later.

And my favourite of the week:

BengalLancerFuller’s Bengal Lancer – I’ve tried this IPA on tap, but not grabbed a bottle yet, however, I’m glad I did. It’s a bottle conditioned, very heavily hopped IPA which is light on the palate but still wonderfully bitter, with the great taste of citrusy hops dominating in a rather pleasant way. As the hops die back there’s a nice touch of fruity malt and it finishes with the same bitterness that most Fuller’s beers display. Very good and one that I’ll be stocking up on when I find someone to drive me to the shops.

Quick Tastings

Not all that many, but a couple I want to mark in my brain:

Harviestoun Old Engine Oil – the dark beer that I thought was the base of the Ola Dubh, but after a taste of this at the Vintage Ale tasting I’m not so sure. It’s a thick dark beer with loads of chocolate malt and not a lot that could be described as sweet. Dry and dark, it’s rather good but not as much like Ola Dubh as I was expecting.

Gales Prize Old Ale 2007Gales Prize Old Ale 2007 – another I tried at the Vintage tasting, but one I picked up at Whisky Live this year. It’s a worrying thing but I picked up significantly more beer than whisky, with a bottle of this and a brace of Fuller’s Brewers Reserve coming home with me. It looks like a typically flat and dark old ale, but is rather surprising to smell and taste. My tasting companions were rather split, with its smell of dry cider dividing lovers from loathers and leaving me on the lovers side. It reminds me a lot of the various Flemish red ales that I’ve tried recently (although not quite as scary as  Duchesse de Bourgogne) – thick, sour and fruity with cherries along with an unexpected bitter old ale aftertaste. It’s a bit of the flemish and a bit of the english old ale – I’ll be grabbing some more as soon as I find it.

Blanton’s Gold Edition – after an evening at Bob Bob Ricard (they’re rather good even when they’re not treating you to a vodka tasting, even if they didn’t have the zakuski or vodka I liked best on their normal menu) me and occasional drinking buddy Kosh stopped into Graphic on Golden Square for an evening ender. While I didn’t like the bar (and thought their regular cocktails looked a bit rubbish) they had not only a couple of interesting looking bottles of bourbon on the shelf but also a bartender who knew a chunk about Blanton’s and sorted us out with some of their Gold Edition. I don’t remember much other than that it was definitely the best Blanton’s whiskey I’ve tasted – typically dryer than most of the bourbons I’ve tried and with a nice rich body, with hints of grain, caramel and fruit. Annoyingly I was drunk and don’t remember all that much, but I may have to go back and try some more.

The Glenlivet 12 Year Old – a bottle given to me after doing a focus group about whisky branding. I’ve always thought of Glenlivet as the old dusty bottle that sits next to the Glenfiddich (a whisky that I’m not a fan of) and was rather surprised by this one. On the nose it has apples, linseed oil and caramel, with an overarching theme of the woodland. To taste it lightly sweet, with a hint of woodiness and a bit of richness fading to a bitter finish. There’s a hint of the oil and apple from the nose, and it’s remarkably refreshing for something that is still quite full bodied. A drop of water brings out some a fruity sweetness and lets the oily wood flavour develop at the same time as removing some of the prickliness and burn. It’s not going to go on my must have list, but it’s a perfectly decent dram.

Quick Tastings

Well overdue with this, so here is a not so quick list of quickish descriptions:

GlenrothesThe MacPhail Collection 1969 Glenrothes. I grabbed a tiny taste of this at Hawksmoor while I was visiting to try out the ice ball machine. 39 years old and a recent acquisition, it’s much loved by the bar staff and they wondered if I’d agree. I did. Vanilla and spicy wood on the nose with struck matches, salty caramel and pepper in the mouth. Water softened the wood into vanilla and brought a background of charcoal. Tasty.

Blanton’s Single Barrel – Barrel 153. A 65% cask strength bourbon. I was chatting with the Hawksmoor bar staff about whiskey, having had a shot of George T Stagg (one of my most favourite whiskies, which there will be a post about sometime soon), and they ‘forced’ a taster of this on me. A bourbon that I was not that much of a fan of when I got a bottle for my birthday a few years back, this reminded me of the good elements of that bottle – prickly and perfumed on the nose, it tasted spicy and woody with a weird astringency not unlike PVA glue. A drop of water added a stack of vanilla. A rather complex and interesting whiskey, more savoury than most bourbons I’ve tried.

Port Charlotte PC7. One on the ‘find and try’ list for a while, this is from Bruichladdich‘s ‘other’ distillery. On the nose it was salty with mulching seaweed, which developed in the mouth to a citrusy charcoal burst and a buttery mouth feel. A drop of water piled on more smoke and a strange salty sweatiness. Impressive.

Horseradish gin. Not one on the menu on its own, but this is the base for Hawksmoor’s new brunch menu‘s drinky centre piece – a bloody mary. They make theirs (the ‘original’ way) with gin, and infuse a large jar of Beefeater with thumb sized chunks of horseradish to make an interesting starting point for the drink. The horseradish smooths out the bumps in the normally fairly rough Beefeater and adds a beautiful spicy warmth to the flavour. I’m off to buy some bottles, gin and a chunk of horseradish later today so I can make my own – I assume it’ll be great in a bloody mary, but it also tastes nice on its own.

1800 Anejo Tequila. Cactus based booze is definitely on my list this year (especially after speaking to Johan Svensson about agarve tequila recently) and I grabbed a shot of the second cheapest anejo that The Texas Embassy sell while abusing their free chips and salsa policy the other week. It had the classic salt and pepper tequila smell but was a chunk more complex to taste. A woody centre with fruitiness turning bitter on the finish. It burnt on the way down and after it had gone left drying tannins that turned to vanilla. Interesting and a place for me to start from.

Chocolate MarbleMarble Chocolate Marble. A present left for me by Alan after my whisky tasting the other week, this is the produce of the Marble Arch brewpub in Manchester. I was meant to be up there this weekend and had already planned a 20 minute dash into the pub to buy some more of their beer, but unfortunately had to cancel my trip. The Chocolate Marble is excellently chocolatey, despite not containing any chocolate as far as I can tell. Stout-ish, as it says on the bottle, bitter-sweet and mouth filling, it may well be my favourite bottled beer I’ve had in a while.

Hop Back Taiphoon. The first of my birthday present beers (thanks Dad!) to disappear down my throat. It’s a weird one this, with a lemongrassy tinge that makes it taste more like a shandy than a regular beer, but with a dry malty aftertaste rather than the sweetness you’d expect. I’m still not sure about it and suspect I need to try another…

Quick Tastings

A couple this week, but first something that isn’t a tasting – I live on the site of the old London Guinness factory, which has since been knocked down and replaced with flats (including mine), some offices (including Diageo, the makers of Guinness) and a park with a lake in. It looks like either we’ve had a scary fungal boom or Diageo have kicked out the St Patrick’s day river dye a few days early:

Diageo HQ

On with the drinks, this week all beers courtesy of a trip to Borough Market, which was in itself an excuse to go to The Rake:

Brooklyn Black Chocolate StoutBrooklyn Black Chocolate Stout (10%, from Utobeer. Seasonally brewed from October to March) – Black to the point of almost total opacity (holding it up to a lamp did little but warm it up a little bit) and quite thick (it definitely has legs when swirled) this is most definitely a dark stout. Very sweet on the nose with a slug of alcohol. Thick and sweet on the taste with lots of chocolate malt, a hint of bitter dark chocolatey flavours and a nice bitterness at the end. Tasty but heavy.

Duchesse de Bourgogne [Wikipedia for those of us who don’t speak flemish] (6.2% flemish red ale from keg at The Rake) – I had a quick sampler of this before diving in and was glad that The Rake serve third pints. It’s very nice, but at the same time quite overpowering in both smell and flavour; not a beer that you can drink much of. On the nose it is Worcester Sauce and little else, as it is at first when you taste it. However, after a second sip you start to get used to the strength of flavour and pick up the rest – cherries, soft fruit and a little bit of bitterness. It is really rather good, although the strangely sour, salty sweet start might put many off.

Devine Rebel?

Brewdog Devine Rebel Reserve (12.5% barley wine from keg at The Rake, who called it Divine Rebel) – A reddish ale with not a lot on the nose. However, it’s thick and malty with a big berrylike fruitiness (maybe overripe bitter peaches?), a slab of bitterness down the middle and a slighty fizzy flavour on the finish. It almost hides its strength but happily kicks you in the head. A tasty evening/life ender.

Stiegl Pils (Salzburger Pils) – an Austrian lager that I jumped on after a week of complaining that I couldn’t find Ottakringer (the beer of my formative years in Vienna) in the Austrian deli near work. It’s typically light gold and not as crisp as I was expecting, with a ricey flouriness and a chunk of sweetness. It quickly fades to a much sharper hoppy finish with little aftertaste. Not one I’ll be jumping to find again, but refreshing after a couple of rather heavy beers.

Quick Tastings

HopheadDark Star Hophead – I rather like hops so this was pretty much always going to be a favourite. I grabbed a pint at The Wenlock Arms the other night, while popping in briefly for a meeting (meetings in pubs are the best). It’s light and golden with a bitter hoppy taste that doesn’t get too much after a pint. Easy to drink and one I can drink all night.

Moscatel Emilin, Lustau – While sitting around at Dehesa for a birthday meal with my dad and stepmum I was tempted into a glass of sherry and went for the moscatel, something that I’d read about recently while looking into whisky maturation but never tasted. It was dark and sticky, a touch lighter in both colour and flavour than a PX. It was rich with tastes of dates and raisins, but stopped short of the occasional overpowering nature of PX. I may have to look out for some more…

SMWS 18.29, Welcoming, mouth-filling and moreish – a 24 year old from Inchgower, a distillery I only knew as a name on my SMWS list (and which seems to be a big component of Bells), and one of two recommendations from Darren, the London rooms manager, for a whisky that was a bit different and from a distillery I wouldn’t have tried something from before. On the nose it was quite flowery with hints of salty toffee. To taste it had touches of floor polish and sherbert dabs. With water it opened up to give more fruitiness, hints of the red lolly in the sherbert dab and a touch of coal on the finish.

SMWS 41.42, Seduction in an Austrian coffee house – recommendation number 2, a 23 year old from Dailuaine (a distillery I hadn’t even seen on my list). The nose had an intriguing combination of pork scratchings and lemons and to taste it was interesting, with parma violets, chilli and charred liquorice root. Water softened the woodiness of the liquorice bringing liquorice allsorts into the mix. Rather nice, although seemingly sold out.